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By landing Cole Anthony, UNC shows it can get five-star recruits again and that its NCAA issues are long gone

Because of what amounted to a loophole in the NCAA rulebook, North Carolina’s men’s basketball program was never formally punished for what some experts called one of the worst academic scandals in history. It outrages outsiders to this day. But that doesn’t mean, and it never meant, the Tar Heels didn’t pay a price.

The NCAA cloud cost them recruits — most notably Brandon Ingram.

“I think I would have,” Ingram answered back in April 2015 when asked whether he would’ve already committed to UNC if not for the uncertainty that an ongoing (at the time) NCAA investigation had created. A few days later, Ingram pledged to Duke — not long after North Carolina coach Roy Williams acknowledged the “junk” surrounding his program had negatively affected his ability to lure elite prospects.

Three straight classes provided evidence.

In 2015, 2016 and 2017 — i.e., the years that essentially covered the time between the day the NCAA relaunched its investigation into UNC and the day the NCAA closed its investigation into UNC — North Carolina enrolled just one five-star prospect while Kentucky enrolled 14 and Duke added 12 over that same span, according to 247Sports. And though it would be false to insist that development cost the Tar Heels in any big-picture/bottom-line way considering they played in the title game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament and won the 2017 NCAA Tournament, there’s no denying it changed the level of raw talent that normally resides in Chapel Hill.

Things are back to normal now, though.

With the NCAA cloud lifted, North Carolina has secured commitments from multiple five-star prospects in back-to-back classes for the first time since 2010 and 2011. In the Class of 2018, it was Nassir Little and Coby White. In the Class of 2019, it’s Armando Bacot and Cole Anthony — the latter of whom publicly committed to North Carolina during a live television show broadcast Tuesday morning on ESPN.

“I love coach Williams,” Anthony said. “If it was up to me, I’d be on campus tomorrow.”

Anthony is the son of former UNLV point guard Greg Anthony — who famously led Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels to the 1990 national championship. The younger Anthony, a 6-3 product of Oak Hill Academy, recently won MVP honors at both the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. He projects as an instant-impact freshman and one-and-done lottery pick who should help keep North Carolina near the top of the ACC.

Just three years ago, UNC could not secure a commitment from a player of Anthony’s caliber — mostly because one-and-done prospects didn’t want to risk enrolling at a school that could face a postseason ban that would rob them of their only chance to ever play in the NCAA Tournament. But there’s no such risk in place now. So the Tar Heels are back to operating like the Tar Heels. Tuesday served as the latest reminder.

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